What is the purpose of war literature?

I believe that there are multiple purposes of war literature.  First off I believe that war literature helps let people back home understand what exactly they are going through while in war.  I also believe soldiers write literature on war to help get their feelings out.  I personally believe that someone is better off writing out their feelings then keeping them all bottled up inside of them.  The longer you have these strong feelings pent up inside of you the worse you will feel.  I believe another purpose of war literature is for soldiers to get their feelings out for other people in similar situations to read about so that they know that they are not alone, that there are other people out there in similar situations.  I full heartedly believe that war literature should be more prominently studied by classes then it currently is.  I feel as though war literature has helped me better understand the kind of circumstances that soldiers have been through and how exactly they feel.  However, I know there is no way what so ever that someone would be able to completely 100% understand what a soldier has been through.


Sonnets from China By: W. H. Auden

“Here war is harmless like a monument:

A telephone is talking to a man;

Flags on a map declare that troops were sent;

A boy brings milk in bowls.  There is a plan


For living men in terror of their lives,

Who thirst at nine who were to thirst at noon,

Who can be lost and are, who miss their wives

And, unlike an idea, can die too soon.


Yet ideas can be true, although men die:

For we have seen a myriad faces

Ecstatic from one lie,


And maps can really point to places

Where life is evil now.

Nanking, Dachau.”

The poem Sonnets from China is written differently than most poems.  Each stanza talks about different groups of people that are affected by the war.  The first stanza is talking about how the higher ups in the military are siting at the headquarters making decisions about the war.  These men are being completely unaffected by it and are making decisions based on intel that could potentially send their men all to death.  The men in the headquarters are all being pampered by servants hence the statement “a boy brings milk in bowls”.  The second stanza is talking about the men that are going to war and are being affected by it.  These men are suffering as they miss their wives and can die at anytime.  The third stanza talks about the country that follows their leader even though their leader is feeding them lies.  For example Germany’s people who followed Hitler.  The fourth and final stanza is talking about two major areas where  mass murders occurred.  These two areas were Nanking and Dachau.  Nanking was a site of mass murder by Japanese troops in Nanking.  Dachau was a concentration camp where thousands of innocent people were killed.  This shows you how people that believe and follow the lies of their leaders can then perform such immense and inhuman actions to these innocent people.

It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers By: Margaret Atwood p. 326

“While I was building neat

castles in the sandbox,

the hasty pits were

filling with bulldozed corpses”

The poem It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers by Margaret Atwood is not the conventional war poem that we are used to reading.  This poem talks about a civilian who is not part of the war and how they live such normal lives while in other parts of the world innocent people are being killed and their homes are being destroyed.  I found it interesting how the author talked about how the child was building a sandcastle but that same sand could be used as a burial sight for corpses.  Later on in the poem the author states that “Each time I hit a key on my electric typewriter, speaking of peaceful trees another village explodes.”  This just goes to show that someone in one place is working and living a simple life without a worry in the world while other people are being killed in other parts of the world.  I find it interesting how  people who are not part of he war and are not affected by it don’t think twice about what is going on and don’t even worry about it.  They wouldn’t care a single bit about the war but in if they were in the people shoes that were being attacked then they would think much differently about it.

First Snow in Alsace By: Richard Wilbur p.283

“You think: beyond the town a mile

Or two, this snowfall fills the eyes

Of soldiers dead a little while.”

The poem First Snow in Alsace by Richard Wilbur takes snow which is usually something very beautiful and tranquil and turns it into something that is in a way depressing.  Wilbur talks about how the snow fell onto the eyes of the dead soldiers which to me in a way is haunting.  I think it is already scary enough to see a dead body but to see a body that is lightly dusted with snow to me would make it look worse, especially if the body kind of blended in with the field and the snow causes it to be more outlined and prominent.  Wilbur in another part of the poem stated how the snow landed on “what shell bursts scattered and deranged, Entangled railings, crevassed lawn” this is another instance where he takes something beautiful and turns it into something that is very depressing.  It also shows you just how destructive the war is on areas like innocent peoples homes and lawns.  Just because of a war between multiple people someone who is innocent is affected and has all of their belongings destroyed.

The hand that signed the paper By Dylan Thomas p.289

“The hand that signed the paper felled a city;

Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,

Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;

These five kings did a king to death.”

The poem The hand that signed the paper by Dylan Thomas talks about how one person can destroy an entire country.  The poem talks about how a single person signs documents that allowed cities in his country to be destroyed and killed thousands of soldiers.  The poem states “doubled the globe of dead and halved a country” this shows you just how destructive a single person can be just by singing a few simple documents.  These documents caused many to die and caused a country to split into two.  It fascinates me how a single document or sets of documents can cause so much destruction to the signer’s own people and to the people of other countries.  The poem wasn’t clear on whether there was a single document or multiple documents signed and whether or not the destruction that was talked about in the poem was to their own people or to other countries they were fighting against, however the immense damage that was caused by the documents were more than clear.

The Battle By Louis Simpson

“They halted and they dug.  They sank like moles

Into the clammy earth between the trees.

And soon the sentries, standing in their holes,

felt the first snow.  Their feet began to freeze”

This excerpt from the poem The Battle uses quite a bit of imagery.  The authors use of imagery helps the reader to better visualize how the battlefield looked.  The section of the poem that states “They sank like moles into the clammy earth between the trees” depicts a picture of how the soldiers dug into the ground to create a sort of barrier to protect themselves from the their enemies fire.  I think it is also extremely interesting how the author refers to the soldiers as moles.  The referral of the soldiers as moles shows the reader how the soldiers are acting like animals digging into the ground for protection and waiting to pounce on their prey.  Later on in the poem the author says that “the corpses stiffened in their scarlet hoods” the scarlet hoods resembles the blood of the soldier forming a hood around the head of the soldier.

Two Armies By Stephen Spender

“Deep in the winter plain, two armies

Dig their machinery, to destroy each other.

Men freeze and hunger.  No one is given leave

On either side, except the dead and wounded.

These have their leave; while new battalions wait

On time at last to bring them violent peace”

The poem Two Armies by Stephen Spendor is quite different from other poems we have read.  Whereas most of the poems we have read so far in class have all been about just one side of the battle and not both, this poem talks about both armies that are at a stand still and are both experiencing the same feelings.  The excerpt I have chosen from the poem expresses how both sides are stuck in their trenches and the war is going absolutely nowhere whatsoever.  The author talks about how the only people that are getting out of this standstill are the people that have lost their lives in the battle.  There are also quite a few people that are losing their lives because of the cold.  I find this sad due to the fact that the soldiers go to protect their country but they are actually dying because of the cold, which is more degrading.

Prize for Good Conduct By: Kenneth Allott p.253

“The worn-out voice of the clock breaks on the hour:

The State requires

My wedding ring and my apostle spoons,

My sons.”

The war poem Prize for Good Conduct is an extremely strongly written poem.  The author, Kenneth Allott’s writing shows that he is extremely upset about how the war is being fought and how people are being treated.  The excerpt from the poem is stating that the government is taking all of the valuable property from the citizens to pay for the war.  They government is also taking the children of women to fight in the war.  All of these factors greatly upset Allott.  The poem goes on to talk about how priests and even 200 hundred widows were put to work manufacturing wooden legs and glass eyes.  The reader assumes that the widowed women lost their husbands in the war, which makes you feel bad for them.  The fact that they are still morning over the loss of their loved ones and are put to work just makes you feel complete disgust for the country that is doing this to their people.


Unseen Fire By R. N. Currey

“This is a damned inhuman sort of war.

I have been fighting in a dressing-gown

Most of the night; I cannot see the guns,

The sweating gun-attachments or the planes;”

The poem Unseen Fire by R. N. Currey is about how the character of the poem believes that they are fighting inhumanly.  The person in the poem is crunching numbers and is telling his comrades when they need to fire their guns.  R. N. Currey states that “I cannot see the guns, the sweating gun-attachments or the planes;” this shows the reader how the character in the poem isn’t even anywhere close to the any of the actual battles.  His comrades are firing guns up into the sky to shoot down enemy aircraft.   The poem is saying the way they are fighting is inhuman due to the fact that the people the are shooting at are 5 miles up in the air and are no where close to the actual soldiers and don’t expect the artillery fire to come so abruptly.  Later on in the poem Currey talks about how they give ghosts the command to fire the artillery.  They refer to the person as a ghost since they don’t even see him and due to the fact that once they fire the artillery the people they fire at become ghosts when they die.

Facing It By: Yusef Komunyakaa

Facing It

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way – the stone lets me go.
I turn that way – I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

The Poem Facing It by Yusef Komunyakaa is a very emotional poem.  This poem makes you think about just how devastating war can be to a soldier who fought in it.  This poem is about a man who is at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and finds a friends name who had died in the war.  When the man finds the name of his close friend he starts having flashbacks of what happened during the war.  Yusef states “I touch the name Andrew Johnson;  I see the booby trap’s white flash.”  This short but very powerful excerpt from the poem shows  how devastating it is to lose a close friend in a war.  During his flashback he also was still very aware of his surroundings. Yusef says “A white vet’s image floats closer to me, then his pale eyes look through mine. I’m a window.  He’s lost his right arm inside the stone.” This shows you how during his flashback he is still aware of what is going on around him.  The way he says the vet lost his arm in the stone is saying that his arm is part of the list of casualties that were left with all of the names on the stone.  It also shows you how a traumatic event like this will forever cause this soldier to have flashbacks of bad memories of war.